“Well, for starters,” I queried, “how do you think you could you tell the difference between a boy and a girl?”
She paused only a second before answering, a bit of a questioning tone ringing weakly in her suddenly-uncertain voice. “By their hair?” She guessed.
Like so much of our heart-to-heart conversation, she had taken the opportunity of catching me (literally) while my back was turned. I was driving, her in the backseat of the car… and then she started asking about sex.
That line of thinking had itself stemmed from a vehicle sighting as we were waiting behind an intersection, an SUV with a neat row of those little ‘this is our family in stick figures’ stickers clinging to the back window. This particular iteration had featured five kids, three dogs, and two moms.
Five minutes worth of innocent questions about “how do two moms have five kids, dad?” and a few of my fumbling answers later, we were talking about sexual reproduction, and not for the first time either.
“What if you couldn’t see their hair?” I prompted.
“Boys have hairy armpits.” She offered, alluding to an insight that had found some traction in her little brain one day recently while we were swimming at the local pool.
“Okay, sure.” I fumbled some more, and continued to prompt. “But what is different about a girl’s parts and a boy’s parts?”
“Do you even know what is different?” I probed, cautiously. “Have you ever seen a boy without any clothes on?”
I was met with something of a restrained giggle, and an uncertain “no” that I was certain wasn’t a whole truth. We’re not exactly a let-it-hang-out kind of family, but we’re also not so private that she hasn’t wandered into the bedroom or bathroom and caught either of us in various stages of undress… or showering. But then, in my head I was rapidly making an inventory of when actually she may have encountered that particular bit of life experience, and I was coming up rather short.
“Well,” I took a deep breath then looked in the mirror as I turned down our street, checking to see that she was still paying close attention. “It’s like this. Boys and girls have different parts. Boys have a penis…” and then we spent ten more minutes parked in the driveway talking far more frankly than I ever thought possible about human reproduction.
fostering independence, rule 017
knowledge is freedom: be honest about sex
The “Talk” has (probably) always been a tricky topic for parents and probably always will be. It’s that moment in time when a probing little mind discovers that there is something more to the whole baby-making-equation than they’ve until then been led to believe. It is a topic mixed up with ideology and tradition, science, practicality, power, and perception. What parents tell their kids, how open they are, what they say and how they say it –from the very first words that come out of their mouths– undoubtedly frames a lifetime of perception, behavior and hangups. And it is entirely up to the parent to get it out just right when they are least expecting to be asked.
It’s not the role of this blog to suggest methods or materials, but rather simply suggest a single statement of position. In a society where sex and sexuality are so closely tied to power, independence and a perpetual struggle for self-determination and personal rights, being dishonest, vague or just plain timid with inquisitive children about the subject doesn’t seem as though does kids any favours, and may ultimately leave them dependent on those who are not so afraid to be more open… regardless of their methods or motives.